ELY – If the COVID-19 pandemic challenged anybody in Ely in the past year, the prize may well go to this city’s Historic State Theater. After sitting empty for a dozen years and following …
ELY – If the COVID-19 pandemic challenged anybody in Ely in the past year, the prize may well go to this city’s Historic State Theater. After sitting empty for a dozen years and following an extensive renovation and restoration project by a dedicated group of volunteers, the landmark entertainment center opened its doors last June in the midst of public health concerns over the coronavirus.
With social distancing and capacity limits in place, a movie theater seemed off limits. The non-profit theater’s board of directors wondered how they would survive. Mere survival was not the plan; it was only a bump in the road.
On the cusp of a new summer season and a waning pandemic, this city’s Historic State Theater marked a truly historic occasion this week with the unveiling of a bronze plaque on the exterior of the landmark, marking the placement of the theater on the National Register of Historic Places.
And on Memorial Day weekend, a second screening room venue, the Greenstone Cinema, is set to open to the public, built in the adjacent building that once housed Salerno Land Sales, joining a new pop-up cafe and the theater’s expanded concessions area that opened earlier this year.
“It is a beautiful theater, all thanks to the Ely community stepping up and saying with their dollars and their support that they want a theater to operate in this town,” said David Wigdahl,chair of the EHST Board of Directors. “It’s hard to believe we’re coming up on our second summer since re-opening the State Theater last June.”
Wigdahl referred to “an epic summer experience” last week in announcing the summer lineup at the EHST.
“I’m proud to announce our summer line up,” he said. “With the opening of the Greenstone Cinema on Friday, May 28, we’ll use this space to screen the biggest releases of the summer on their opening day including ‘F9’ and ‘Black Widow.’ The State Theater, will continue to play recent films for four to six after their release, along with a family matinee.”
“On top of that, we’re introducing two new series: Summer Classics and Stages On Screen,” Wigdahl added. “Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Summer Classics series will bring the biggest hits of old to the big screen, including Blues Brothers, Terminator, Dirty Dancing, and more. Every Wednesday and Sunday, the Stages On Screen series will bring world famous live theater performances to the big screen, including Frankenstein (starring Benedict Cumberbatch), Kinky Boots, and more.”
Between the two film series and EHST’s regular movies, the venue will have five different movies playing every week. To share the fun and excitement with the whole community, a Summer Pass, at a cost of $25, can be redeemed for up to eight movies. “That's a $40 value,” he said. “Grab one while you can, and we’ll see you at the movies.” The Summer Pass runs Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Ely’s Historic State Theater is also equipped for live theatrical productions. Just prior to the coronavirus pandemic, The Quiltmaker’s Gift played to packed houses in January 2020 and showcased local talent.
While COVID-19 raged across the world, the EHST hosted an adapted opera, ‘The Medium,’ with the Northern Lights Music Festival. Molly Olson and the Reflections Dance Company also conducted a mixed media event in the State Theater last summer. “We even hosted a live concert recording of Stevie Nicks last year,” Wigdahl added.
The new Greenstone Cinema will allow for booking first-run newly-released movies. “To show a film on opening day, distributors require exclusive, continuous use of the screen for a minimum of two and as many as four weeks,” he said. “Having a second screen provides space to meet these requirements while also freeing up the larger State Theater for live performances and special events.”
While the smaller 50-seat Greenstone Cinema construction was being finished, Wigdahl gave a brief tour. “Fans will love the large, comfortable, rocker-type theater seats,” he said. “The cup holder arms even tilt up and away for date night. This second screening room is all part of our larger plan to turn the theater into a venue not only for movies, but concerts, shows, conferences and other events.”
He credited “creative experimentation” for the options available in the new concessions area located adjacent to the State. Earlier this month, an exclusive release of the new Blueberry Borealis cider drew a large crowd for a pre-release party.
Beverages such as wine, beer and hard cider on tap, soda and the newly added Bubly water “first on fountain in the Arrowhead” are available, Wigdahl added.
Freshly popped popcorn, Belgian snack waffles, candy and more round out the movie-going experience. “We want everyone to know that the cafe is open before, during and after theater events, and not just to those attending a theater event,” he said. “The general public and downtown shoppers are all welcome to come in to a family-friendly place and sample our fare.”
Plans to expand the lower level, that features a unique ledge rock outcropping, are still under consideration. “We are looking at expanding bar service down there for our customers. That is part of our Phase 3 expansion,” he said.
Wigdahl added, “I also want to thank all of our local laborers who helped restore this historic venue, including the Tanner Ott family and Alley A Realty, H & B Construction, Burntside Electric, and Custom Theaters of Ely.”